No one is sure whether the original tale of Brother Jocundus is based on fact or folklore. Either way it makes for a wonderful story that I just had to share with you. Watch out for a mention of Brother Jocundus himself in my next book, The Key to Her Past.
Some medieval writers liked to mock the monastic orders. Could this tale be factual or one of those anecdotes designed to shine a light on the pious medieval monks who never seemed to crack a smile? Some versions of the story are set in Scotland, some in England. Whichever it may be, enjoy a story first written down more than five hundred years ago.
There were once two neighboring abbeys, St Mary’s and St Leonard's. In St Leonard’s there lived a stout monk named Jocundus.
A year had passed since Jocundus joined the order and to celebrate the anniversary of taking his vows he decided to sneak out to the town carnival, wanting to spend one night enjoying its dancing dogs, giants and dwarves, drinking booths, and countless whirli-go-rounds.
As the monks slept, Jocundus stole the keys from the dozing porter and then left the priory. When the monks awoke, two trustworthy brothers were sent out to bring him back.
Meanwhile Jocundus enjoyed prodigious amounts of ale, ending his night sitting on a seesaw, singing, “In dulce jubilo, Up, Up, Up, we go.”
The monk was not hard to spot, especially as he fell off a moment later, landing unconscious on the ground beside the two brothers sent to retrieve him. They carried his senseless figure back to the priory as he continued to mumble his song.
The trial began as soon as he returned. He had been caught drunk and incapable. Asked what he would say in his defense, he opened his bloodshot eyes and merely sang, “In dulce jubilo.”
The sentence was harsh. For his crimes, Jocundus was to be walled alive into the priory cellar, there to starve to death while contemplating his sins and praying for God's forgiveness.
As he was taken down the cellar stairs, he continued to sing, “Down, down, down, we go. In dulce jubilo.”
With a jug of water and a loaf of bread his only sustenance, he was walled in brick by brick. Darkness fell on him. He was trapped. As the last of the alcohol left his system, panic kicked in and he kicked out, lashing his foot against the wall behind him.
A typical medieval cellar
Suddenly it gave way and he fell backward into a cellar much like his own. Where was he?
Steps led up and he followed them, finding himself in the abbey of St Mary’s, the two monastic cellars had been separated only by a single wall and he had just crashed through it.
Jocundus was more lucky than he realised. The monks of St Mary's never spoke. No one said a word when they saw one more monk in their midst. He joined them at dinner, took a bed in the dormitory, and settled once more into monastic life.
Another year passed and Jocundus resisted temptation. Until the carnival came back to town.
Not wanting to repeat the mistake he made last year, Jocundus decided to toast the carnival alone in the abbey cellar. Having resisted beer all year, he had no idea how strong the abbey home-brew could be. Soon he was dead drunk and the barrel was empty.
Dinner time and no ale could be provided for the monks. The barrel was found empty, Jocundus asleep next to it, muttering, “In dulce jubilo, up, up, up we go.”
The crime was shocking, the punishment no less so. Jocundus was to be walled up alive in the cellar, the same nook where he had escaped certain death a year before.
The deed done, Jocundus was trapped in the dark once again, continuing to sing, “In dulce jubilo, up, up, up we go.”
The cellarer of St Leonard’s at that moment descended the steps to refill his pitcher of ale. To his astonishment he heard a song not heard for twelve months, the ghostly singing of the long dead Jocundus.
Up the stairs he ran yelling, “A miracle!” interrupting the funeral of the prior, dead only the day before.
The whole abbey descended, all hearing the singing from the spot where Jocundus had been walled in a year earlier. Pulling away the bricks, they found the miracle they sought. Jocundus had lived for a year with no food or drink.
There could be no doubt the monk was revered in the eyes of God, this was clearly a heavenly sign that he should become their new prior.
Not wanting to take any more chances, Jocundus took the hint, remaining sober from that day until the day he died decades later.
By then, the monk had become a legend, the legend becoming a story that has survived through the ages until the present day.
What do you reckon? True tale or just a tall tale?